The role of a Family Liaison Practitioner at Demelza is varied; every family’s journey through our services is different, and we need to treat it that way. That’s why my in-reach role on the neonatal unit of the Medway Maritime Hospital, meeting the families of babies with complex needs at the very beginning of their child’s life, is so important.

‘In-reach’ working is quite literally what it sounds like. As a Demelza representative, I work at the Medway Maritime Hospital two days a week, working with their healthcare professionals to reach families who need our services – but might not know it. This includes time on the unit and in meetings where different healthcare professionals meet to discuss their current caseload – where I’m perfectly placed to spot children who might benefit from our specialist care.

This often involves doing some myth-busting! Even in healthcare settings, people don’t quite understand the breadth of care that a children’s hospice like Demelza can provide. Naturally, when someone hears the word ‘hospice’ their mind goes straight to end of life care; when in fact, this important type of care only represents one of more than 15 different types of service we offer. There have been more than a few occasions where I’ve had to push back on this idea with other healthcare professionals, because I can recognise when a family would genuinely benefit from a referral to Demelza when they might not.

Once I’ve identified a family and received the go-ahead from the Medway Maritime Hospital care team, I can discuss our services and the possibility of a referral with the family themselves. This is an incredibly important moment, as I don’t want to overwhelm them with information. They’ve just welcomed a baby into the world and they’re experiencing all of the complex feelings you would expect, not to mention the added uncertainty of having a baby with a serious health condition. 

This is when my expertise is vital. I can navigate this difficult (and often emotional) conversation with the family, explaining only the services they need to know about in that moment – it isn’t helpful to tell them about our hydro pool for example, when what they might benefit from right now is some care at home. Again, every family is different, and it’s my job to recognise that and determine what they need to hear. As long as they’re happy with this initial conversation, I can proceed to help them with the referral process, and if their referral is accepted they make their way onto Demelza’s caseload. 

From there, we can offer them support as and where they need it; maybe they need a volunteer driver to get them to appointments, or signposting to funding and resources to help them cope with their child’s unique needs, or maybe they just need someone to talk to. These are all services we provide as a matter of course, helping them navigate these daunting early days.

In the time since we launched this pilot in-reach scheme in September 2021, I’ve overseen our referrals from the Medway Maritime Hospital as they increased from two last year to more than 30 this year. This means 30 more families, with complex neonatal cases, have had access to Demelza’s vital services as and when they need them. This is in line with our current five-year strategy, where we set out a goal of supporting 250 new expectant parents, neonates, and babies under one year old by 2027. 

I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done at the Medway Maritime Hospital, and when we’re confident the scheme is developed fully we aim to expand the offering beyond neonatal cases. Our next big goal is to extend our reach into more hospitals – I’m very excited to see Demelza supporting more families across Kent! At the end of the day, I do this role for the families we support, and it’s so gratifying to see the success of the past year.